By: George Garneau
NEW YORK-AREA dailies missed the story of high school basketball star Richie Parker’s pleading guilty to sexually abusing a 14-year old girl ? and then fought over one another’s catch-up coverage the next week.
Meanwhile, back on the Seton Hall campus in South Orange, N.J., the Setonian, the university’s student weekly, followed the story doggedly in the news columns, editorially opposed offering the accused sex felon a scholarship from the outset, and held its ground as the sad tale played itself out.
As early as Nov. 17, the Setonian zapped the administration for signing a letter of intent to give a full basketball scholarship to Parker, who was accused of two counts of sodomy, just two weeks after it had fired an administrator for not presenting “a Christian role model” because she had married a former priest.
“Every time you turn around,” the Setonian observed in an editorial, “someone at the school is preaching about the Catholic mission of the university. Does the men’s basketball team’s signing of a high school recruit who has pending charges of sodomy fall within this Catholic mission?”
The administration remained silent, even after Parker pleaded guilty Jan. 13 to a reduced sex charge stemming from the January 1994 incident in which he and another male student forced a girl to perform oral sex on them. The other student pleaded guilty also.
After news of Parker’s plea bargain emerged ? and the weekly Setonian picked up the story Jan. 19, ahead of most of the New York-area commercial dailies ? the Setonian again hit the administration in an editorial for putting itself “in conflict” with the school’s “Catholic mission.” Even though Parker had the potential to be Seton Hall’s “greatest recruit ever,” the editorial said, unless he pleads extenuating circumstances, “it seems almost impossible for anyone to rationally argue that Parker is the right choice for Seton Hall.”
“The Setonian did a far better job than any of the other New Jersey papers on this story,” said New York Post sports columnist Phil Mushnick, who criticized the Star-Ledger of Newark in particular.
Setonian coverage included an editorial cartoon depicting a college administrator using sports as the key to unlock a cell full of athletes. It ran inquiring photographer-style interviews in which students largely opposed the scholarship, often with women saying they feared having a sex offender on campus. It also ran an op-ed column criticizing Star-Ledger sports columnist Tom Luicci for his tirade against the administration’s handling of the Parker affair.
For its efforts, the Setonian got a plug in the New York Times. Times sports columnist Harvey Araton, in a column the Setonian proudly excerpted, said:
“Unlike their school’s administration and coaching staff, the student journalists seemed to have a working moral compass.”
?(The Setonian) [Photo]